A calm demeanour while making history. Smashing records and still humble. This is none other than our pride, the jewel in the crown of Indian Badminton, Srikanth Kidambi.
How do you react when you join the select few to have four or more Superseries titles to your name in a season? If you ask the 24-year-old shuttler from Guntur, he would most certainly leave you awestruck with only a warm, radiating smile and not much celebration or boasting.
Emulating his idol Roger Federer, Srikanth says that he derives the ability to keep his head on his shoulders from the Swiss Legend. For a sportsperson, a win is an emollient that smoothes out the pain of all gruelling efforts that have gone into the making of victory. It is these bottled up emotions that fizz out when a Matchpoint is conquered.
For some it manifests by a loud roar, a tightly clasped fist pump, throwing away the racquet in glee or simply going down on the knees with moist eyes.
For the star called Srikanth Kidambi, it only means raising the arms aloft and glancing at the boisterous bunch of fans, thanking them for support with silent gestures devoid of lengthy expressions.
From a Srikanth who did not take his exercise or diet regime very seriously or would let out emotions on court, here now stands a brand new Star.
How else can one otherwise explain the sudden resurgence after that excruciatingly painful loss at Glasgow in the quarterfinals at the hands of the Korean star Son Wan Ho? Srikanth albeit did not let that loss overwhelm him.
Picking up himself, he embarked on a journey which was destined to take him near the zenith and how. In every post-match interview of his, the ace shuttler confesses that he barely thinks of the rankings or the accolades.
Having learnt to focus on the bull’s eye, Srikanth believes in just the present moment on the court and about how to tackle the opponent.
After that defeat in August at Glasgow, Srikanth has lost only one match, which was at the hands of World Champion Victor Axelson during the quarterfinals of the Japan Open. It’s been a fascinating run since then. Srikanth conquered his second consecutive Super Series title and a fourth in this year’s French Open defeating Japan’s Kenta Nishimoto in straight games on Sunday.
This win placed Srikanth among the only other three players to have Four or more Super Series titles in a single calendar year. The Great Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and the two-time World champion Chen Long are those beside whom Srikanth’s name shall be fondly written in letters of gold in the pages of badminton history. India’s darling Saina Nehwal was the only one with three Super Series titles whom Srikanth has managed to outmanoeuvre.
I am no analyst, but an ardent sports fan who loves watching her favourite stars and observing how these players manage to deal with failures and find new ways of keeping the fire from burning. In this passion of mine, I discovered the three things that have transformed Srikanth Kidambi into the World no 2.
What is it that has propelled Srikanth to the zenith?
1. Handling Pressure Situations
Coming face to face with World Champion Axelson at the Denmark Open again last week, fans were almost sunk in a deja-vu. But we were taken by surprise when Srikanth displayed gutsy composure, patience and determination.
The Dane, looking so comfortable on his home soil, clinched the first game 21-14.
Trust me, it felt as if the ghosts of Glasgow were almost here. But it was not to happen. Srikanth looked as if he had suddenly found an exorcist to wean out the scare. He quickly found his feet in the second game and soon our star was soaking in the tensed situations with a renewed armoury. Taking the second game 22-20, Srikanth was mighty successful in squeezing out every ounce of The Dane’s energy and confidence.
This was completely evident in the third that was almost like a cakewalk. A 21-7 in the decider sealed Axelson’s fate who was sent packing.
The quarterfinals of the French Open also laid a testimony to this trait—of keeping calm in tensed moments. Taking on the defending Champion Shi Yuqi of China, the first game loss was a very scary scenario.
21-8 in favour of the opponent was something that could subdue even the greatest to low spirits and steal the confidence. But for Srikanth, it was a test that he took and won with finesse. Staying cool and holding his nerves, the second game with 21-19 came into his bag and also the decider that was lightning quick 21-9 which won him the match.
The impending All Indian semi-final with his compatriot Prannoy HS also brought forth his super cool attitude. Losing the first set 14-21 and then trailing in the second too, he did not lose his composure. Gathering back, he went on to win four straight points to take it to a decider. The remarkable revival in the third game, gifted Srikanth a fifth Super Series final of the season.
2. Working on Fitness
Srikanth credits his fitness to his gruelling training in the past 10 months. Moving from shorter to longer training sessions has worked wonders for our star shuttler. Under the watchful eyes of the Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, the one who is known for coaching Former world and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat, Srikanth has been scaling higher fitness levels and being helped in gaining stamina and endurance.
Sudhakar Reddy, Srikanth’s former coach, before he stepped into the Gopichand Academy, was also happy with the transformation in his student. Compared to earlier days when Srikanth could not give due importance to his diet, it was a welcome sight for Reddy to see him do the right things today, as quoted in an interview.
Srikanth confesses that there are those phases when he is lazy to report for training at the academy but the hunger to conquer new heights works as a driving force.
3. Endurance for injuries and tough losses.
Since the time Srikanth’s career took flight, he has had his share of good and the not so good. Succumbing to Lin Dan at the quarterfinals of Olympics subdued the Guntur boy into distress, so much so that he decided to seek solace into the warmth of family and home.
The painful ankle injury that followed during the Korea Open in 2016 added to the woes, even more, forcing him to stay away from the court for almost four months.
In spite of being confined to rest, Srikanth gathered his spirits and began training slowly and steadily.
This was possible with the all-around support from his coach Gopichand and his family who helped him step on the court again. Extreme pain often teaches an individual to remain patient. Like they say, some lessons come the hard way and so it did to Srikanth. It has transformed him into a more mature, patient and a humble athlete, whom we all adore.
I recollect reading about that scary incident in Srikanth’s life, which was almost bent on swallowing him. In 2014, a rare “brain fever” was threatening to take the better of the lad. Enduring the same, it was a long journey of complete recuperation.
I’m somehow convinced that it takes extreme mental strength to come out from the strangles like these that life throws at us. But only a few like Srikanth are able to tame such roadblocks and take life and its challenges head-on.
Srikanth Kidambi indeed has written history and made us proud by adding numerous feathers to an already decorated cap of Indian Badminton.